On this episode of the It’s Going Down podcast, IGD contributor Scott Campbell interviews Yunuen Torres, a community member from the autonomous P’urhépecha municipality of Cherán, Michoacán. More than nine years ago, on April 15, 2011, the residents of Cherán rose up and removed from their community illegal loggers linked to cartels, the municipal authorities, and the police. In the time since, they created an autonomous communal government where political power rests in the hands of the community and that has been designed to meet the needs of the more than 20,000 inhabitants of Cherán.
The conversation discusses the uprising and its context, how the communal government was formed and how it functions, the changes and challenges experienced in the community as a result of nine years of autonomy, as well as how Cherán is facing the COVID-19 pandemic, and what lessons and inspiration the community’s struggle may offer to other struggles and social movements in other locations.
The interview was conducted in Spanish and rerecorded in English. Many thanks to the comrade who offered their voice for this recording. The two music tracks included in this podcast are both from Cherán. The first is by Colectivo Aho and the second composed by music teacher Mario López and performed by the young musicians of the Banda Sinfónica Infantil y Juvenil Cherán K’eri. A transcript of the interview can be found below.
While it emerges in the midst of tragic and difficult circumstances, I am excited for the release of the anthology Deciding for Ourselves: The Promise of Direct Democracy, edited by Cindy Milstein and to which I contributed the chapter “The Bonfires of Autonomy in Cherán.” As we make our way through this time of loss and uncertainty and begin to think about what comes next, I hope it may offer some insight and inspiration.
It’s now available for a short time on a “Pay What You Can” basis from AK Press.
As the book description reads, “A better world through self-determination and self-governance is not only achievable. It is already happening in urban and rural communities around the world.” This is what Deciding for Ourselves dives into, a theme that couldn’t feel more pressing and necessary.
My contribution looks at the indigenous P’urhépecha municipality of Cherán, located in Michoacán, Mexico. For the past nine years, Cherán has operated under a form of autonomous communal government after a popular uprising removed cartels, local police, politicians and political parties from the area. While the story of the rebellion and its immediate aftermath have been well documented, the chapter takes an in-depth look at how the communal government functions and meets the daily needs of Cherán’s residents, why the government took the form that it did, and how life has changed and is experienced in a place where community and government are woven into a shared communal fabric.
If mutual aid, solidarity, autonomy, self-determination and collective liberation are ideas that interest or resonate with you, this book is worth picking up. And at up to 75% off, it’s a great deal that also helps support an independent radical publisher.
On January 19, the Indigenous Nahua community of Zacatepec, Puebla, removed its mayor and replaced him with a Council of Elders in response to his failure to stop a toxic drainage system that is part of the Mexican government’s neoliberal Morelos Integral Project. Shortly thereafter, on January 24, Miguel López Vega, the community’s representative to the National Indigenous Congress and its Indigenous Governing Council, was detained moments after delivering official notice of this action to the state government, setting off protests and highway blockades that won his release five days later. The following day, January 30, the municipal government temporarily suspended construction of the drainage system. The below article and photos by Daliri Oropeza for Pie de Página and translated by Scott Campbell documents the assembly to remove the mayor and create a self-government.
While forming lines, residents of the Nahua community of Santa María Zacatepec look at one another. They smile. They check who is in each line, which one is the longest.
Facing the threat of a toxic drainage system emptying into the Metlapanapa River, they have decided to practice self-determination and choose their own government according to their own internal system.
We are individual and collective adherents to the Sixth Declaration of the Lacandón Jungle, EZLN and CNI sympathizers and people from below and to the left in solidarity with the suffering of our brothers and sisters, victims of the recent earthquakes and the predatory system that is only death.
As in 1985, those who claim to govern remain totally surpassed by reality. Today their wonderland can’t be seen, not even by them. Meanwhile, we are the ones from below who suffered the consequences of these natural and socio-environmental disasters. Like 32 years ago, today the Mexican people are the ones going into the streets and towns to help, to give what little they have to help the other, the one who suffers, the stranger, the brother. Some who have much contribute much. Among those who have little, they contribute what they can, sometimes everything that is in their hands. Those who have nothing give their heart and offer to serve were needed. They are the ones who fill the streets and coordinate to gather aid and distribute it. Small business owners support by giving food and drink to those who give their time and effort. True hope emerges from these smiles and glances of solidarity.
On Tuesday, September 19, a powerful earthquake struck central Mexico. With a magnitude of 7.1 on the Richter scale and the epicenter just south of the city of Puebla, it has caused numerous deaths and widespread damage in Mexico City and the neighboring states of Puebla, Morelos and the State of Mexico, along with reports of loss of life and structural damage as far south and west as the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero.
Dozens of buildings collapsed in Mexico City alone and at the time of this writing at least 230 people have been reported as killed. The earthquake occurred just hours after a national earthquake drill and commemoration of the 32nd anniversary of the 1985 quake in which more than 10,000 people were killed. The 1985 tragedy is a seminal moment in modern Mexican history not only for the massive devastation caused but also due to the negligence, corruption and opportunism which marked the government’s response, especially when contrasted with the tremendous mobilization and solidarity of civil society in successfully self-organizing rescue efforts in the face of the state’s abdication of responsibility.
This is a special IGDCAST with Sofi, an anarchist compañera from Mexico City who is deeply involved in a variety of solidarity and organizing efforts with anarchist prisoners in Mexico. The audio interview is in Spanish, while below is an English transcription, along with two song MP3s you can download separately. If you want to see more in depth reporting on what is happening in Mexico, be sure to support our Mexico trip fundraiser.
We start off this episode with a recorded greeting from the Cimarrón Collective in North Prison in Mexico City. Then Sofi discusses the persecution and repression facing the anarchist movement in Mexico City as well as a review of the situation of four anarchist prisoners currently being held by the Mexican state. We look at the corruption, exploitation and neglect that occurs in Mexican prisons and what compañeros on the inside are doing to fight back. In particular, there is a focus on the Cimarrón Collective, a formation started by anarchist prisoner Fernando Bárcenas that has autonomously reclaimed space inside the North Prison and self-manages a variety of initiatives. For listeners, perhaps the most intriguing one will be their punk band, Commando Cimarrón. A couple of their songs are included in the podcast.
The interview then wraps up with discussion of a proposed amnesty for prisoners being put forward by “leftist” political parties in the Mexico City government and the response of our anarchist compañeros. Lastly, there are suggestions for how the struggle for their freedom can be supported from outside of Mexico. Throughout this post, we include links for more information, primarily in English, and photos of some of the art produced during workshops organized by the Cimarrón Collective.
AUGUST 2 UPDATE: The Anarchist Black Cross – Mexico reports their lawyer says that the compas will be released shortly as they were not charged within the 48 hour time frame required. However, this does not mean that the legal process is over, as they have 15 days to pay the damages UNAM claims to have suffered (approximately 40,000 pesos). If it is not paid, the compas could be charged. As such, it is important to continue raising funds to pay this amount. For more information, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To our fellow compañerxs, to those in the struggle, to the independent media and the community in general:
On Sunday, July 31, at midday, four compañeros who are members of Okupa Che were near the university pool when they were surrounded by National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) Security, who in an excessive operation began to attack them.
For no apparent reason other than to terrify them, nearly all the members of this repressive force began to beat them, throwing some compañerxs on the ground and jumping on their bodies and skulls, along with sexually assaulting compañera Andrea. At the first call for help, two other compañerxs went to see what was happening and immediately began receiving the same treatment from UNAM Security. The end result was that our compañerxs received several blows to their bodies and faces and at least two of them have broken bones and serious injuries.
As the violence and repression instigated, permitted and perpetrated by the Mexican State continues to grow, it can become overwhelming to summarize it in these pages in a way that does justice to the victims and survivors of state terror and impunity. Yet as the grim tallies multiply and impact more and more lives, so does the clarity that what the state offers even in its best moments is no solution at all, and from that point resistance flourishes. The sparks of refusal and defiance despite the odds ignite around the country, making meaning out of that which seems so senseless, breathing reclaimed life into a panorama of death. As América del Valle of Atenco said earlier this month, “Even with everything they did to us, we don’t come here today as martyrs. We don’t come to cry…We’ve come here to say NO!” Lxs insumxs. Let’s see what they’ve been up to over the past two weeks.
Happy May Day! Around Mexico today numerous marches will be held, primarily organized by the National Education Workers Union (SNTE) and its more radical tendency, the National Education Workers Coordinating Body (CNTE). A few of the demonstrations are listed on It’s Going Down’sroundup of May Day actions. These marches are usually large, as the teachers union requires their members to show up. That extra incentive probably isn’t needed this year, as the teachers are fed up with the state’s repression and attacks on public education. The CNTE has already announced an indefinite national strike for May 15, and as a warm- up held the largest march in its 37-year history in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas on April 22. Stretching more than three miles with 100,000 participants, the march was in response to the repression faced by teachers there the week before. While the CNTE base has consistently demonstrated its militancy, the leadership remains stuck in the politics of respectability, as demonstrated during the April 22 march when they ordered that “no one should commit acts of vandalism and that anyone caught would be detained; that no one would be masked or cover their face.” The gap between the two seems likely only to widen as the union’s actions intensify.
When it comes to teachers and protests, fresh on everyone’s mind is Ayotzinapa. When it comes to a relentless dedication to preserving impunity at all costs, the Mexican state is quite impressive. This was on full display last week as the Interdisciplinary Group of Independent Experts (GIEI) sent by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (CIDH) released its final 600-page report in a four-hour press conference on April 24. The GIEI’s mandate was cut short by the CIDH following the Mexican government’s consistent harassment, subterfuge and non-cooperation. “The experts assured that the authorities have not followed key lines of investigation, evidence has been manipulated, obstructed and investigative work rejected, officials that would have participated in the disappearance protected, and alleged suspects tortured to obtain confessions that support the government’s version.” The details are too expansive to explore here, but the short version is that the GIEI found the students were under surveillance, the attack on them was recorded and coordinated among local and state police and the army, and that the head of the Criminal Investigations Agency (akin to the FBI in the US) had a personal role in manipulating evidence and illegally detaining and torturing someone who later “confessed” to involvement in the disappearance.
Several victories for social movements in Mexico were recounted in the Insumisión posted on March 17. This edition focuses on the state’s response, which in the first part of April has been expressed through two of the state’s inherent qualities: force and coercion.
One of the victories mentioned was that of the Otomí community of San Francisco Xochicuautla in the State of Mexico. After years of organizing, in February a court suspended the expropriation decree issued by the federal government for a highway to be built through their forest and town. The community celebrated, but in a case of foreshadowing, said they would not rest until the entire highway project was canceled. The state emphatically made clear that the project was still on, when on April 11th it besieged and invaded the town with 800 to 1,000 riot police. In complete disregard for the court ruling, the police escorted in heavy machinery belonging to Grupo Higa (the owner of which is a close friend of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto), that began clearing land for the highway and also demolished the home of one of the movement’s leaders. The solidarity extended to Xochicuautla was powerful and immediate, which included the Zapatistas and the National Indigenous Congress issuing a “Maximum Alert” both for Xochicuautla and Ostula in Michoacán, due to an ambush against the Community Police of that autonomous Nahua community, which killed one. This seemed to catch the state off-guard, as on April 13 they ordered the construction be stopped and promised to pay for the damages. But they also said they would be leaving a number of state police nearby to guard the machinery in the meantime. In response, the community has organized 24-hour patrols in case of renewed construction, and the situation remains tense.